About a week ago my daughter, son-in-law, and I picked up the newest addition to our clan of canines. Tex, a liver-colored flat-coated retriever was available from Bingley’s breeder and after careful consideration of all his attributes (including some health issues that we agreed were very manageable), he seemed like the perfect dog for their little family. He is a 2 1/2 year old, intact male who is highly social with people, has had a fair amount of training, and is a typically active flattie. We loved him from the instant we learned about him. The breeder was in Dresden for some field dog training and brought Tex with her, so off we went to get Emma and Thomas’s new best friend.
In the past, we have introduced puppies to our current canine companions, and though we have had boarders, we have not added an adult dog to the clan since 2002. Personally, I have found that adding puppies (~8-10 weeks) is easier than adding an adult dog when you have other dogs in your home, as there is a certain puppy license that adult dogs will grant to youngsters under 4 months of age. Adding an adult dog requires that you appreciate the personal space that each dog has and allow them to move freely around one another. However, no matter the age of the newcomer, adding any dog to any household requires a certain amount of preparation, tact, patience, and, if you have other dogs, a high level of canine diplomacy for peace to reign supreme. I have some basic rules that I like to follow when introducing dogs, and in searching my archives I found an article from The Whole Dog Journal called “New Dog Do’s and Don’ts“* that has some suggestions as well for introducing a new dog to your home whether or not you have other pets. Some of her best ideas are about pre-planning for your pet, and what you need to be aware of when deciding to get a dog:
Often, new-dog ventures fail most frequently when people don’t take enough time – time to research what sort of dog is really best for them, time to prepare for the dog’s arrival, and time to spend with the dog. In fact, the first thing I ask when I hear someone is thinking about getting a dog is, “How much time do you have?”
I couldn’t agree with her more! I do not recommend bringing a new dog into your home if you do not have ample time to make it work both short and long term. We got Tex on a Thursday when Emma and Thomas were on fall break (until Sunday evening) and I did not schedule anything on my calendar until the following Monday. We wanted to be sure that we had ample, relaxed time to make Tex and the rest of the pack comfortable.
In addition to allotting a surfeit of time, we did the following to introduce Tex to our household:
- We picked up Tex without the other dogs. This allowed us to meet him and spend some time getting to know him before we added the challenge of a new home and two new dogs. Moreover, I did not want to put two (or more) dogs who do not know one another in a small area for any extended period of time. With no ability to move out of each other’s personal space, I would be setting them up to be very uncomfortable around each other, potentially dislike one another, and possibly fight with each other. Not the way I want to get this relationship started.
- When we got home, Emma and Thomas put Tex on a leash and walked him down the block. I then brought out our dogs, one at a time and we introduced the dogs to one another on neutral territory making sure the leashes were slack at all times. Keeping your dog’s leash nice and loose when he is meeting another dog is critical to making the encounter successful. Think of it this way: if your dog’s options for stressful moments are fight or flight and the leash is taut, thereby preventing him from moving easily around the other dog, what option does he have left to get the other dog to back off?
- We also did not have them meet coming at each other head on, but allowed them enough room to pass by one another, move to one side, or turn away completely. It is very rude in the dog world to come at another dog head on, so we allowed them some room to move around each other comfortably and to turn away or arc away from the other dog if needed.
- We kept the encounter short and sweet. They met, greeted one another and when one moved away we took that as a signal to part and I put my dog in the back yard, then brought out contestant number 2 to meet Tex, repeating steps 1-4.
- The next part was to allow the dogs to engage off lead in the back yard where they had plenty of room to move around. We did not leave the dogs to their own devices but instead, monitored and supervised all canine encounters to ensure they were appropriate. We had lots of tennis balls to throw for the retrievers and found it handy to have them parallel playing. Bingley played ball with me, Tex ran around, played some ball, talked to the people, etc. Buckley watched the silly retrievers expend exorbitant amounts of energy.
- Bingley does not like other dogs to go over his shoulders and when Tex put his paws on Bingley’s back we watched to see what would happen. Bingley stiffened and let out a low growl. It took a few warnings, but Tex got the message that Bingley did not like that. Allowing dogs to work out their disagreements is fine, as long as it does not escalate into a fight. We were careful to make sure that it did not get to that point by diffusing the situation by calling Tex off of Bing and re-directing both dogs to other activities or parts of the yard.
- We also managed the time in the yard together by adding in breaks from one another, not just by using parallel play, but by taking one dog inside for a drink and a chance to unwind.
- When it was time for the dogs to meet inside, we brought each dog in separately and did not allow the other dogs to hang around the doorway as tight spaces can cause problems. We were very conscious about making sure all dogs had room to move and to get away from the other dogs so that no one ended up feeling cornered or trapped. Bingley and Tex did some posturing towards one another and when they seemed tense, we would separate them, give everyone a treat and allow them to reunite. My objective here (as it is with play groups) was to keep everything as low key as possible, so I prefered to err on the side of more rather than less interventions. Thus, we interrupted their behavior/interactions, sometimes every minute, sometimes every 5-10 minutes.
- One thing we found extremely handy was a series of baby gates. The baby gates allowed Tex and Bing to be close to one another, they would sniff through the gate, even lie down next to it, but they could not invade each other’s personal space. It encouraged them to be together without constantly interacting, and it allowed us to have all the dogs in the same room and not have to constantly monitor those interactions. For example, Bingley was developing a small hot spot at the base of his tail and for some reason Tex decided it was his responsibility to lick it. Bingley was very tolerant for the most part, but the licking made the hot spot worse and it eventually annoyed Bing. The gate prevented Tex from licking Bing and allowed them both to settle down while we watched a movie.
- In addition to parallel play, we found it very handy to walk them together so that they were moving parallel and close to one another. They were doing something together and with their people, but they didn’t have to be paying complete attention to one another either, thus teaching them to be more comfortable with each other in close proximity. It’s sort of like a moving gate! The dogs are together and active, they have space to move, and can interact but it also gives us a way to quickly and efficiently separate and re-direct the dogs.
- Reward desirable behavior. We were all outfitted with bait bags loaded with tasty morsels so that we could reward good behavior the moment it happened. When the dogs all sat next to one another and focused on a person, everyone got a treat. When one dog turned away from another to avoid a kerfuffle, he got a treat. When all dogs settled down, bones rained from the sky. A basic tenet of behavior is that it is consequence driven. As I said in an earlier blog: In other words, rewards matter. Rewarding desirable behavior will do more to change and improve your dog’s behavior than anything else you do, including playing at being alpha dog. Thus, use praise, petting, food, toys, anything your dog loves, to your advantage to get better results sooner. Your dog will quickly learn that getting along with the new dog on the block brings good things.
It will take some time for everyone (you included) to be comfortable with the new arrangements so be patient with all involved and remember that time and space are your best friends here! Monitor your dogs’ interactions and give them time together and apart. Make sure that all the dogs have a safe place to go to re-group that will not be invaded by others. Bingley spent time with me in my office with the gate closed while Tex and Emma hung out in the other office with a baby gate across the doorway. Buckley slept in our bedroom in his spot by the bed. We found that time together and time apart made for a an easier transition for everyone as no one was forced to make small talk when they didn’t feel like it.
Tex has gone to Michigan with Emma and Thomas, but will be back for holidays and vacations and we will start the introductions all over again from step 1 so that no one gets overwhelmed. We will still use gates as necessary, but I know that the need for them will diminish over time as everyone becomes not only accustomed to the changes, but happy to have Tex aboard.
Another Whole Dog Journal resource is: Managing a Multi-dog Household